As open and sincere as her post allows that, having modern western values and Russian roots, strong desire to hear and be heard, and deep empathy for Ukraine and Ukrainians... Ambassador of France to Ukraine Isabelle Dumont has shared her views on the challenges for Ukraine and basic issues of diplomatic relations between Kyiv and Paris, which turn 25 years in January.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND FAILURES OF UKRAINE AS MIRROR IMAGE
- Your Excellency, what, in your opinion, are three major achievements and three major failures of Ukraine in 2016?
- I cannot highlight just three achievements. Fortunately, there are much more.
- It sounds optimistic...
- First, I want to mention the electronic declaration, which was highly publicized and showed that certain officials have huge savings. This fact, of course, shocked the public opinion, both in Ukraine and throughout the world. However, in spite of this, I name e-declaration among the achievements, because it had to be done. We hope that the electronic declaration will have the continuation and the consequences, and the new methods to combat corruption will be launched after the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.
Second, there is a success in another area. Ukraine demonstrated economic growth, though it was small. The very fact that the country resumes its growth causes quite a lot of interest.
Third, we can mention Ukraine's rapprochement with the European Union. One of these days, we will mark a year since the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement came into force (January 1, 2016). Ukraine paid too much attention to the referendum on ratification of the Association Agreement in the Netherlands but talked very little about the positive consequences the agreement’s entry into force. Ukrainian exports to the European Union have increased by 7.5%. It is a significantly positive moment.
Fourth, I believe that establishment of the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons of Ukraine is also the achievement. This indicates that certain Ukrainian officials deal with the problems of people affected by the conflict.
And the last point. I cannot help but say about the factor that encourages optimism. Ukrainian society, even if some doubts appear, still does not lose faith in the positive future.
- What about three failures?
- The failures are very often a mirror image of the achievements.
Thus, the fight against corruption has both successes and certain difficulties, the source of which are conflicts of interest, personal conflicts in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people and the international community hope that the fight against corruption will become more intensive and effective.
There is also a negative trend regarding the occupied territories. Unfortunately, it seems that there is a certain group of people in Ukraine who think that freezing the conflict would be a positive solution and that people who stay in the occupied territories are traitors. Such a trend is undesired, as we are well aware that Ukraine is a victim in this conflict.
NORMANDY FORMAT AS POLITICAL SUPPORT OF FRANCE
- What would you highlight as the main events of the year in the bilateral relations?
- One of the latest extremely important events is holding the business forum in Paris in October, which was attended by Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. This forum allowed talking about Ukraine in France not only in the context of the conflict, but also in the context of the economy and the development of economic relations. This is very important.
- Could you outline some specific results of this investment forum?
- I can tell you that a number of entrepreneurs called the embassy after the forum, taking interest in the opportunity to invest in Ukraine.
Many French investors already work in various fields in Ukraine: banking, agriculture, IT, perfumery, cosmetics and so on. Among foreign businesses represented in the Ukraine, the French provide the greatest number of jobs.
We will be able to attract a lot more French investors when the business climate in Ukraine improves.
- In connection with the illegal arrest of Ukrinform correspondent in France Roman Sushchenko in Russia, I cannot help but ask whether the French side supports consideration of the issue of liberation of Ukrainian political prisoners within the Normandy format talks?
- French authorities are closely monitoring what is happening with Mr. Sushchenko, as well as with other Ukrainian citizens who have been imprisoned in Russia during the conflict. The French side has raised the issue of Ukrainian prisoners within the Normandy format.
We also want the issue of the prisoners to be solved as much as possible in a humane way within the humanitarian subgroup of the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group. I have met with the mothers of captured Ukrainian servicemen several times. And after those meetings, I deeply understand that it is essential to find a way out of this situation. These mothers have been waiting for news about their sons for two years. And it's just unbearable.
- You mentioned once that France is making great efforts for the release of French journalists and other its citizens who were taken hostage, including by terrorists. What could Ukraine draw from the French experience in the context of the urgent need for releasing hundreds of captives and political prisoners?
- I think that Ukraine does everything correctly in this area as a whole. These issues must be treated as highly sensitive ones.
SUPPORT FOR REFORMS AS BEST WAY TO DEVELOP RELATIONS
- What, in your opinion, are the prospects for the Normandy format talks after the presidential elections in France in the spring of 2017?
- First, we need to remind that we already have a candidate from the right, but no candidate from the left. Therefore, it is still very early to talk about the consequences and the policy after the elections.
In general, I may say that French foreign policy usually changes little. There are nuances, of course. However, since France plays a significant role at the world arena, its foreign policy is based on the solid general principles of protection of the human rights, protection of the international law, and, of course, protection of the national interests. Therefore, the basic principles do not alter after every change of the government; everything is done in accordance with these basic principles.
- You have repeatedly commented on the issue of the visa-free regime for Ukraine and stressed that there is no resistance or blocking on part of France. Thus, can we say that certain informal messages claiming the visa liberalization for Ukraine could be hampered because of the upcoming elections in France is speculation?
- It is speculation.
- Where do they come from, in your opinion?
- You know it perfectly well. Sorry, but I cannot comment on speculations, which have no connection with reality.
- Looking at the prospects, could you outline the criterion of the success of your mission as the Ambassador to Ukraine?
- As every ambassador, who was at this post, I see my main goal in developing the relations between France and Ukraine. Of course, for a country like France it is easier to develop relations with any country, if it is more European. Therefore, I think that the best way to develop our relationship is to support the reforms in Ukraine. If we succeed in this together, I will assume that my mission here has been successful.
"THERE ARE NO FRENCH PEOPLE WITHOUT ROOTS"
- At a recent press conference in Ukrinform, you said "there are no French people without roots" and hinted that you have relatives who emigrated to France in 1917. Could you tell whom you mentioned?
- My grandmother.
- Where did she emigrate to France from?
- From Moscow.
- Did she contribute to the fact you obtained a degree in Slavic studies?
- Of course, she did. She taught me Russian, using French.
- You once said that you had been staying in Ukraine when the Soviet Union had collapsed?
- Yes, it’s true. I visited the former Soviet Union as a winner of school language competitions. I was in Moscow during my first stay, and in Ukraine, particularly in Kyiv and Crimea, during my second visit. I stayed in Crimea for a month then.
- What is that has impressed you most in present-day Ukraine? Places, people?
- I have been to different cities in Ukraine and I must say that the architecture is just wonderful and very diverse. The caryatids are everywhere here in Kyiv and in other cities. In Odesa, for example, there are old houses, some of which are in very poor condition, but there is a touch of history.
As for people, I have mentioned in the beginning of the conversation that Ukrainians have faith in the future. They know the disadvantages, but believe they can make the country better. This belief touches me the most.
Natalia Kostina, Kyiv